Article of Faith #14 – Divine Healing
Date: Sunday, September 12, 2004
Author: Rev. Jonathan K. Twitchell
If you turned on the television last night, you were probably confronted again with images of the terrorist attacks from three years ago. You may have watched some of the coverage, remembering the numbers of lives that were lost at the time. During one the segments that I watched, two people who had managed to escape the building alive were interviewed, indicating that they don’t go through a day without thinking of the way that life changed for them three years ago. Their entire perspective on life has been changed, as they have realized how fleeting life can be. One lady, in an effort to explain how her life had changed since safely escaping the building said, “I truly did die that day,” indicating that her life now is nothing like it was on September 10th, 2001.
Anytime there is a tragedy with survivors, people are faced with the question, “why me? Why was I spared while another wasn’t?” A term, “survivor’s guilt” has been coined to explain the emotions felt by a survivor who wonders why they were spared while another died in the tragedy. Sometimes survivors feel truly guilty that another person died while they were allowed to live.
These questions that we wrestle with are the same questions that cause us to be nervous when approaching an article of faith on Divine Healing. We know that God doesn’t choose to heal every time we ask Him to. We wonder why some people are healed and others aren’t. We even experience a sense of nervousness when coming to be anointed; for fear that it might appear that we have weak faith because we were not healed. The pastor even loses sleep the night before, afraid that a parishioner might interpret God’s inactivity as evidence of the pastor’s lack of faith. And then, we realize that we’ve entered into the entire time of a healing service by expressing doubt that we will see a miracle.
The fact is, we’re quite perplexed about this doctrine of healing. We believe in healing, and we’ve seen miracles, and at the same time we’re plagued with questions about why God doesn’t always choose to heal the way that we expect Him to. We know that there is no secret formula to guarantee God’s miraculous intervention, and yet we are tempted to doubt our own faith when we continually pray and don’t see the answer we would hope for.
Today, we continue our journey through the Nazarene Articles of Faith, with Article number Fourteen: Divine Healing–
18. We believe in the Bible doctrine of divine healing and urge our people to seek to offer the prayer of faith for the healing of the sick. We also believe God heals through the means of medical science.
This is perhaps the simplest statement we’ve dealt with so far, as the language is clear with no $20 theological words that need definition. Simply put, we believe that God heals through divine intervention, and that we should offer prayers, in faith, asking God to heal the sick. And, while we believe in divine intervention, we also believe that God has given gifts and abilities to humanity which have allowed for medical and scientific intervention which also cure the sick. Going to the doctor can be just as much an affirmation of faith in God’s healing abilities as coming to this altar for prayer and anointing, if trust ourselves to God’s care while under the care of the physician.
And yet, while this is a simple doctrine from a linguistic standpoint, it raises all sorts of practical and theological concerns for us. We want to know how God heals. We want to know why He heals. And, we want to know why He sometimes doesn’t heal. It would be easier if we could put God in a box and expect Him to do what we want Him to do. It would be easier if He were predictable and understandable. And yet, there is a recognition that He is the Creator of the universe, and simply doesn’t have to answer to us.
Before we go any further, let us take a moment to look at why we believe in Divine Healing. One the one hand we have modern experiential evidence of God’s miraculous working in our lives. Cancer cells that were there one day are gone the next. Unborn babies that didn’t look like they would ever make it to full-term are now happy and healthy toddlers. Family relationships that looked like they might turn into World War Three have been reconciled by miraculous intervention. Indeed, God does miracles even today!
But before that, we have scriptural evidence of God’s healing hand at work in the lives of His creation. In Second Kings chapter five, we read of the healing of the commander of a foreign army by the name of Naaman.
1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.
2 Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”
11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.
13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.
15 Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.“
Before we move on, I want to point out a couple of items from this passage. Note that the prophet is not given credit for the healing, nor are the waters of the river. We must always recognize that when God heals, he may utilize people or elements in the process, but it is always God who heals. Note also that the healing requires action on the part of the person. Naaman has to exercise faith in order to receive God’s grace. It is God’s grace that calls him and heals him, but he has to respond to that grace. Lastly, notice the final outcome of the healing. Naaman says “I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel .” Time and time again throughout scripture, we see that the purpose of miracles, signs, and divine healings are to show forth to the world that there is a God. Miracles are not really for us, but are for a watching world to see us glorify God.
Not only do we see miracles in the Old Testament, but Jesus performs miracles in the Gospels, as recorded in Matthew 4:
23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them.
Not only does Jesus heal, but gives authority to the apostles to heal in His Name. We read in Acts chapter Five that:
12The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.
The ministry of Jesus was synonymous with healing. Wherever Jesus went, he healed people from sickness, disease, infirmities, and demons. Wherever the apostles went, the same healing ministry followed. But healing was not restricted to Jesus and the 12, for we are taught to seek divine healing in the book of James, chapter 5, verses 13-16:
13Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. 14Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
Given all of these scripture passages on healing, we might think that everyone was healed of their problems all the time. We might think that miracles characterized the work of the early church. And yet, one of the greatest church leaders, the Apostle Paul did not receive the grace of God’s healing the way he desired. Hear these words written by Paul in Second Corinthians 12:7-10:
7To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Do you know, I’m relieved by this passage of scripture this morning? Why? Because Paul was a great man of faith, and yet he was not healed. Three times he asked for healing, yet God did not see fit to heal him. We learn a very important lesson from Paul…God’s healing does not entirely depend upon our faith. Surely we know that Jesus often told people that their faith had made them well. We recognize that our faith is a vital element to God’s work in our life. And yet, we can have the faith of the Apostle Paul and still not be healed from our infirmities. God’s grace is not dependant upon our faith, and the fact that God hasn’t chosen to heal us does not necessarily have anything to do with our faith, or lack thereof.
No, God is not predictable in healing. We cannot control God’s grace simply by praying and anointing. Healing is not necessarily an indicator of our faith, nor is lack of healing necessarily an indicator of our lack of faith. Why does God choose to heal some and not others? The fact is, we could wrestle with this question for hours, days, months, or even years and not arrive at an answer. We may simply never know. But that does not alter our faith that God heals and that we are to pray for and anoint the sick. Our prayer for healing is an act of trust that God is the creator and that He knows better than we do.
All of my wonderings and arguments about this remind me of Job. After Job received word that his sheep, servants, camels, and children had all been lost, he tore his clothes and worshipped God saying:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”
Later in the book, after hearing poor advice from his friends, Job begins to question God and why God had not protected him from the devastation which had come his way. God listens to the dialogue between Job and his friends, and finally offers an answer to these sorts of questions in Job chapter 38:
1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said:
2 “Who is this that darkens my counsel
with words without knowledge?
3 Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone-
7 while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?
8 “Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
9 when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10 when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?
12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning,
or shown the dawn its place,
13 that it might take the earth by the edges
and shake the wicked out of it?
14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
its features stand out like those of a garment.
15 The wicked are denied their light,
and their upraised arm is broken.
16 “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been shown to you?
Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death?
18 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
Tell me, if you know all this.
And so, upon hearing God’s answer, my foolish questions are silenced. I can no longer ask why one person escaped the World Trade Center and another didn’t. I no longer struggle with why one person is healed and another isn’t. I begin to realize that it is not my role as pastor to have the answers to these tough questions, but to simply remember that God is God, and I am not. The fact remains that we did not create the foundations of the earth. We did not instruct the sun how to rise and set. We did not set limits on the land and the water. And so why is it that we think we ought to be able to instruct God as though we were His counselor? Why is it that we think we might even need to know why He chooses to heal one and not the other?
Perhaps, the biggest affirmation of faith this morning is not to pray and anoint (although we’ll do that in a minute). Perhaps the greatest affirmation of faith is for us to suspend our questions. Perhaps the greater good is for to stop trying to understand why God sometimes heals and sometimes doesn’t. For when I suspend those questions, I’m affirming not only God’s ability to heal, but His wisdom in deciding how and where to do so. We place ourselves entirely in God’s hands, trusting Him to do what is right and what is best. By seeking His hand of healing, we are also trusting that He will walk with us through whatever tomorrow holds, whether He chooses to heal or not. We are affirming His goodness and His wisdom, and recognizing our prayer that His “will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
In a moment we will put all of our theological arguments aside. We will suspend our questions and our debates with ourselves. We will attempt to silence our questioning and our doubting and come, simply trusting that God will meet us here at these altars.
We are always prepared to anoint any who ask for prayer and anointing, but at least once a year we have a service dedicated to prayer and anointing. In a moment I will invite you to come to receive whatever healing God has in store for you today. It may not be physical healing, but may be spiritual, emotional or relational. He may not provide the healing that you think you need, but may instead provide a greater healing that He knows you need. You may come for healing for yourself, or on behalf of a loved one in need of healing.
There’s no secret formula here, the oil is not a magical substance. We simply come to affirm our faith in the God that heals. We place ourselves in His hands, trusting that He will walk with us every step of the way. We come, by faith, seeking His miraculous gracious hand at work in our lives.
As we sing our prayer chorus, you may come and kneel here at these altars, seeking the Lord’s forgiveness and healing in your life, however He chooses to meet you.
Benediction: I Thess 5:23May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.